On Thursday 10 November, an episode of the national channel NRK’s documentary programme Brennpunkt was broadcast that took a critical look at the Norwegian aquaculture industry and seafood research. NIFES was the focus of extensive attention, and the viewers could easily be left with a completely wrong impression of NIFES and our monitoring of Norwegian seafood after seeing the episode. Using Brennpunkt as its source, the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet has also wrongly accused ‘independent researchers’ of cheating.
One of NIFES’s main tasks is to check Norwegian farmed salmon for undesirable substances, in order to ensure that the fish people eat is safe. And our analyses show that it is safe, as they have done for many years. Norwegian farmed salmon is safe to eat. NIFES analyses more than 12,000 farmed salmon annually for relevant undesirable substances such as medical residues, and persistent organic pollutants. The salmon that is analysed is ordinary farmed salmon, the same type sold in the supermarkets. That is important to underline.
Brennpunkt also mentions that NIFES uses so-called ‘designer salmon’ in its research, which is correct. For example, we have conducted studies on heart patients who have been given a diet of salmon with high, medium and low levels of fish oil in their feed, and on women who have been given a diet of salmon with high and low levels of vitamin D. The research design is described in detail in the publications, and would not be considered to be cheating by any branch of science. In other words, there is no contradiction between conducting research on different levels of nutrients and undesirable substances, on the one hand, and stating that the current recommendations are healthy and safe, on the other. But this designer salmon has nothing to do with our monitoring of the farmed salmon that is available in supermarkets and on people’s dinner tables. The designer salmon that Brennpunkt subjects to critical scrutiny was used in a project called Fish Intervention Studies (FINS), and it was given to school pupils. It is a type of salmon that has been given less dietary fish oil , and that therefore contains less marine omega-3 fatty acids and lower levels of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs. Brennpunkt claims that this fish contains lower levels of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs because the ordinary farmed salmon we find in the supermarkets is not safe enough as it is. That is not the case. Supermarket salmon is safe to eat. We ‘designed’ the salmon so that it would not contain unnaturally high levels of marine omega-3 in order to ensure that the research would be relevant when the results of the FINS study were published. The project started in 2013, and was intended to last for four years. When the project started, we expected that, after four years, farmed salmon would receive lower dietary levels of fish oil than it did at that time, and we therefore tailored the levels to match that assumption. And we pretty much hit the mark. The FINS salmon contains 9 mg/g of marine omega-3, while the salmon you find in the supermarket contains 11.4 mg/g, although consumers may find levels that are both higher and lower than this. If we had not made this change, the results would not have been as relevant when they were published. In terms of both marine omega-3, dioxins and dioxin-like PCB, the so-called designer salmon from FINS is already readily available in supermarkets.